There will have to be a do-over for the North Harbor contract award and it appears there will also be an appeal to the borough assembly. The assembly this week awarded the bid to Western Dock and Bridge of Ketchikan for just under 7.1 million dollars. However, it turns out the decision was premature because the borough didn’t put out a seven-day “notice of intent” which is required under municipal code. That’s according to correspondence from Petersburg Borough Manager Steven Giesbrecht and other borough officials who contacted the affected companies about the issue on Wednesday. The second-lowest bidder, Petersburg’s Tamico Construction, had already submitted an appeal which Giesbrecht had subsequently denied. However, that was before the notice-of-intent problem came to light. Now that notice has officially been given, Tamico has refiled its protest, which the manager has denied.
Tamico’s next option is to appeal that decision to the borough assembly which would then hold a hearing on the issue within seven days.
You can read Tamico’s official protest here and the borough manager’s response here.
In a related matter, the assembly approved a 483 thousand dollar contract for PND engineers to administrate and inspect the North Harbor project.
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In other news, the assembly re-affirmed the towns support for a proposed land-exchange between the Alaska Mental Health Trust and the US Forest Service. The plan is aimed at conserving roughly 18,000 acres that are important to residents in several Southeast communities while providing the trust with more remote Tongass National Forest lands it can log instead. The impetus for the exchange originally came from Petersburg, where many residents along Mitkof Highway objected to an earlier trust plan to log the steep, landslide-prone hillsides above their homes.
Mitkof Highway Homeowners Association co-founder Ed Wood said he preferred the Forest Service own the land, “In my view, lands close to communities are better served being public lands rather than Mental Health Trust lands. That’s my personal opinion.”
Wood said he was satisfied the Forest Service would not log the land in question. The federal agency has stricter environmental rules than the state, which regulates timber cutting on trust property and other private land. The Trust’s mission is to use its lands around the state to help fund mental health services in Alaska but that mandate has come into conflict with adjacent property owners and communities over the years.
In addition to the Petersburg property, the Mental Health Trust would also give up acreage near Juneau, Wrangell, Sitka, Myers Chuck and Ketchikan. In exchange, the Trust would get 21,000 acres of Tongass Forest lands near Naukati and Hollis on Prince of Wales Island as well as Shelter Cove and Gravina Island near Ketchikan. So, Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen pointed out that the exchange was a regional issue:
“I’m in support of this especially with the homeowners association being in favor of it. The one thing I mentioned today on the radio as well is we’re also voting on a region-wide thing that’s going to affect areas all the way down to Naukati. So, by supporting this, I don’t want to step on any of our neighbors toes but I support resolution 2013-09,” Jensen said.
The assembly unanimously passed a resolution in support of the land exchange. The exchange process is expected to take three to five years and will include opportunity for public review and comment.
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Among other business, the assembly directed the borough manager to look into making Papke’s landing dock an official posting location for new ordinances and other announcements. Currently the borough uses The Trees RV Park as the official posting place closest to Papke’s. It’s about a mile away.
The assembly has talked about the matter over the course of several meetings in response a request from area residents. Petersburg’s Mayor and some assembly members had previously raised safety concerns about staff having to walk down Papke’s pier to get to the bulletin board. The facility is owned by the state.
Keene Channel resident Ken Howard suggested a solution during a call to KFSK public radio’s Borough Business show before Monday’s meeting,
“All of us use that dock and if the Mayor’s got a problem with sending an employee out on the dock I will personally move the bulletin board where it will be on the land-side end of the dock…. Maybe the sanitation person (who) parks and does his business within 30 feet could bring the notice out,” Howard said.
Howard pointed out that Petersburg’s petition for borough formation included Papke’s Landing as a place for posting public notices. The borough charter specifically lists Papke’s among the places that new ordinances should be posted within 15 days of their final passage.
Assemblyman John Hoag and Mayor Mark Jensen had both been guests on the show. During the assembly meeting later that evening, Jensen said the borough would need permission from the state to use the site. Hoag suggested the borough try and make it work.
“If I recall, Mr. Howard volunteered to remove the bulletin board to the place where he wants it and I would ask the city manager just to be in touch with him or staff as delegated and if we can get that bulletin board moved and if that will make those folks happy I see nothing wrong with going ahead and using it as a posting place but there are a couple of “ifs” in that statement,” Hoag said.
The assembly voted unanimously to have the borough manager follow up on the issue.
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In other news, Petersburg’s Fire Chief says the department needs more volunteers. During a report to the assembly this week, Chief Jerod Cook described the thousands of hours volunteers put in for emergencies, training and other needs. However, he said it was getting harder to recruit and keep people in the department.
“Quite honestly I don’t know what the answers are to it. But it’s something the city needs to be thinking about in the back of their mind. How do we get people to volunteer for these types of deals? As you see, there’s extensive amounts of training involved and it’s a lot of hours and most of our volunteer pool in the city is already volunteering for so many other things. But at the present time we’ve got a property tax exemption that falls in line with the state exemption…At the same time, it only benefits those who who own homes,” Cook said.
According to Cook, the department has considered proposing other incentives that might benefit all the members such as sales tax exemptions, a retirement fund, or even a stipend or wages during actual emergency calls.
Cook said he could use more people in all three department branches, but he was particularly concerned about firefighting. He pointed out that because of their jobs and other obligations, only limited number of volunteers can respond to a fire call at any given time.
“We usually get the first truck out no problem. The second truck I’m crossing my fingers for in some cases,” said Cook.
According to cook, there are a total of 65 volunteers in the department which is down from over 70 just a couple years ago. Today there are 26 firefighters, eleven of whom are also E-M-Ts. There are 13 more E-M-T’s who are not firefighters. The search and rescue squad has 26 members. Those totals include one volunteer who is trained in all three branches.
On the bright side, Petersburg’s fire department, police department and other local infrastructure and personnel have contributed to a recently-lowered Insurance Service Office rating. Some insurance companies use that “ISO” number to help calculate premiums. Within the former city limits, the rating has dropped from 5 to 4. According to Petersburg-Wrangell Insurance Center owner Susan Erickson, that will mean a small decrease in annual premiums. She gave a few examples of savings on homeowners insurance:
“The least expensive one was 14 dollars to about 54 dollars. It depends. And you think, ‘Well what’s 14 dollars? Heck, my insurance premium’s 800 bucks a year!’ Don’t underestimate the compounding value of money, times each one of us here, times year after year after year. So, what the fire department has done here is effectively lowered the cost of everyone’s insurance in the community and it’s fantastic,” Erickson said.
According to Erickson, there will be about a two percent decrease in the cost of insurance for commercial structures within the former city limits.
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Also this week, the Mayor appointed veterinarian Ken Hill and retired dentist Phil Beardslee to fill two vacancies on the Hospital Board. The borough is still looking for someone to fill a vacant slot on the Port Authority Advisory Board.
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